Even If He Doesn’t…DANIEL 3

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DANIEL 3

Just this week I read a report of three young men in the Middle East (Iraq) who were thrown into a fire by extremists when they refused to denounce their faith in God and convert their religion. These are the kinds of headlines that are sadly becoming commonplace today. This particular report, however, actually took place nearly 2,500 years ago. It’s the event recorded in Daniel chapter three.

I believe King Nebuchadnezzar became obsessed with his dream described in chapter two. Being the narcissist that he was, he fell in love with the idea that he represented the gold head of the statue, “king of kings” according to Daniel, unopposed ruler. He then builds a 90-foot statue, covered in gold, and insists on celebrating it with all. Not just celebrating it, but worshiping it. So everyone turns out to bow down to this monstrosity.

Everyone, that is, except Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Maybe there were others who declined, but it was difficult for these three to go unnoticed. They held prominent positions in the government and were probably envied by more than a few. Those looking to make entrance into the good graces of the king would see their refusal as a perfect opportunity, and that’s how the story goes.

King Nebuchadnezzar flies into a rage when he learns of their defiance and orders the fiery furnace to be heated seven times hotter. His face even contorts with rage. These young men seem so strong and confident that I am amazed at their response to this intimidating man.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18 NLT)

They’re immediately bound and thrown in the fire and indeed, God saved them from harm. He’s even present with them in the furnace because everyone could see four figures walking around in the furnace. When the three men exit the fire without a scar or singe on them (they don’t even smell like smoke), there’s no explanation for it, except that it’s a miracle of God, and the king knows it.

STAND FIRM

Without a doubt this was one of my favorite Bible stories as a kid, and the message I took home: remain strong in faith and God will protect you. It’s a great message for a kid in the U.S. who tries avoid the dangers of peer pressure and who still remains largely protected in this land of liberty. But there are people today who remain firm, refuse to denounce their faith in Christ and… they die for it. Unprotected. Martyred. What does this say about God and about our faith?

First of all, it should be noted that these young men didn’t suddenly muster up the right amount of faith to nobly walk the path we now admire. It’s clear from the first two chapters that their faith had been building and growing and God prepared them for this moment. While God demonstrated his authority and power through these men, they didn’t turn to his miracles for the foundation of their faith. They relied on the unseen God himself.

But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up. (Daniel 3:18 NLT emphasis mine)

But even if he doesn’t…The Bible is full of dazzling displays of God’s saving power, but it is not devoid of the tales where this divine intervention seems startlingly absent. Not everything has a fairy tale ending. Today, I want to dig deeper into the substance of faith, how God uses miracles and signs to reveal himself, and our expectations from God as a result

THE MIRACLE

Miracles are inherently subjective, viewed and interpreted through the lens of the observer. You can look at my back yard during summer and see an unkempt space of wild grass and weeds. I on the other hand see wildflowers and a natural New Mexico landscape. You might experience God in a way that you see a miracle, while I might be skeptical and wary.

In his book entitled Miracles, Eric Metaxes writes:

If God is behind a miracle, and we can agree that that is ultimately what makes a miracle a miracle, then a large part of his performing the miracle has to do with communicating with the people who are observing or experiencing the miracle. So we can ask, if a miracle happens in the woods and there’s no one around to see it, is it a miracle? (Metaxes, Miracles, p.15)

The whole point of a miracle is not the miracle itself, but to whom the miracle is pointing, and to whom God is communicating through it. Why did God save Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in such a flamboyant way? It wasn’t for the oooh’s and aaaah’s that would no doubt follow. It was so that all who observed (and all who now read the story 2,500 years later) would desire to know this God.

If a miracle happens in the woods and there’s no one around to see it, it’s actually not a miracle. (Metaxes, Miracles, p.15)

As we look through the records of the Bible, I see some predominant, although not exclusive, patterns to when and how miracles are granted. One of which is this, faith in God precedes the miracle, not the other way around typically. For example:

During the ministry of Jesus, there was a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years without any relief or cure from doctors.

For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.” (Mark 5:28 NLT)

And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.” (Mark 5:34 NLT)

Or the gentile woman who requested that Jesus cast out the demon tormenting her daughter. Jesus told her that he was there for the Jews, the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.”

“Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed. (Matthew 15:21-28 NLT)

I could go on and on with examples like these. They were miraculously healed because their faith was enduring. Faith came first. Conversely we also see examples of Jesus withholding miracles, where otherwise he may have granted them, when he identified that the people had no faith. For example:

He returned to Nazareth, his hometown, during his ministry to teach. The people knew he was a carpenter’s son and that he had no formal training. Mark records that his people “refused to believe in him,” and that he was “amazed at their unbelief.” (Mark 6:3,6)

And so he did only a few miracles there because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:58 NLT)

The Pharisees are another example of miracles being withheld.  They were constantly trying to trap him into saying or doing something that they could use to arrest him. There was no faith in them.

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had arrived, they came and started to argue with him. Testing him, they demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority. When he heard this, he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why do these people keep demanding a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, I will not give this generation any such sign.” So he got back into the boat and left them…” (Mark 8:11-13 NLT)

Why do you think the miracles needed to follow their faith? Why doesn’t it seem instead that miracles inspire faith?

HARD HEARTEDNESS

If you recall in the previous lesson I centered in on the truth that God is the keeper of all secrets and thereby the revealer of all secrets. I went on to say that while each of us remains in captivity to pride and selfishness, we’re usually blind to those things that reside in our heart. We might see it in others, but we can’t see it in ourselves. It takes God’s revelation of those secrets deep within our heart to release us from that bondage.

Scripture will often refer to our heart as hardened while we are blind. Is it the blindness that makes the heart hard, or the hardened heart that renders us blind? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? While studying this week, I noticed several different kinds of hardened hearts that I’ll share with you today.

The Forgetful Hard Heart

Starting with Nebuchadnezzar, I see him having a forgetful hard heart. He is presented with God’s awesome power in chapter two after Daniel accomplished the task that he so impossibly set before him. When Daniel shared the dream and the interpretation, Nebuchadnezzar didn’t hesitate to acknowledge God’s supremacy.

The king said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is the greatest of gods, the Lord over kings, a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this secret.” (Daniel 2:47 NLT)

Yet in chapter three we find him building an idol and threatening to kill anyone who didn’t worship it, including those men aligned with Daniel and the Most High God he just praised. How could he forget?  As we move into chapter four next week, we will see this pattern continue. Does he have a learning disability? Or hard heart?

The Opportunist Hard Heart

The folks who fall into this category are motivated, not by faith, but by what they hope to gain from God. So many of the people who marveled at the miracles performed by Jesus, followed him because they wanted to be entertained. But when the rubber hit the road, they too, hit the road.

Shortly after the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 with only five loaves of bread and two fish, some of these same people followed Jesus across the lake and peppered him with questions. They wanted more miracles.

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking eternal life that the Son of Man can give you…” (John 6:26-27 NLT)

So focused on the things this world has to offer, and searching for opportunities to gain more, Jesus is telling them that they’re entirely missing the point.

The Prideful Hard Heart

Now this is a category that could probably technically include the previous two, due to its broad coverage. So much of our sin is rooted in pride. However, for my purposes today, I’m limiting the definition of pride mainly to those who insist they are always right, whose behavioral tendencies are argumentative, and to those who fear that others might threaten their status.

The Pharisees, during Jesus’ ministry, had prideful hard hearts. They found Jesus incredibly threatening and were determined to undermine him at every turn. They vilified his miracles by accusing him of breaking the law when he healed on the Sabbath. They attempted to debunk the legitimacy of his miracles by accusing his power as Satan’s. And their pride kept them from seeing God in these miracles.

The Ignorant Hard Heart

Lest we walk away today thinking that none of this applies to us because we, after all, love and follow God, bless our hearts, there is a hardened heart that affects even those of us who earnestly seek our Lord. As we pursue our Lord, our faith grows, which implies there’s space in our lives where our faith lacks. It’s within this space that a hardened heart holds potential. And it’s our attitude toward that potential, our humble acceptance of our imperfections, which will ultimately determine how long it remains hardened.

Allow me to explain with an example. After this same feeding of the 5,000, a miracle if there ever was one, the disciples got into a boat and sailed out onto the lake. While sailing, a terrible storm came upon them and they were in serious trouble. That’s when Jesus arrived; walking on the water and it scared them as much, if not more than the storm.

The he climbed into the boat, and the wind stopped. They were totally amazed, for they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in. (Mark 6:51-52 NLT)

A group of men who loved the Lord, earnestly followed him, but simply didn’t understand all that was in front of them. We know these men eventually came to an understanding, because they never stopped asking. They never stopped seeking. We have that same hope.

FAITH UNSEEN

I talked about the miracle, I talked about the hard heart that blinds us to the miracle, now let’s talk about the faith that precedes the miracle. Ever heard the phrase, seeing is believing? In reality, it should say, believing is seeing. Stay with me a minute.  Hebrews defines faith for us.

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 KJV)

This is why so many of the miracles that Jesus performed were granted after the profession of faith. Faith is not because of the miracle, but the miracle rather is the confirmation of the faith and God’s faithfulness. Faith is inherently based on things unseen, and ironically faith is also the gateway to those unseen secrets revealed. Believing is seeing.

Faith is not exactly what delivered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace. God delivered them. Faith is what led them to God over and over, day after day, when they couldn’t always “see” what God was doing, before they ever arrived at the furnace. Even if he doesn’t, they said. It didn’t affect their faith or their resolve.

Those people who wanted more miracles after the feeding of the 5,000, they were blinded to the miracle standing right in front of them.

They answered, “Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do? After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven. My Father did. And now he offers you the true bread from heaven. The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “give us that bread every day.”

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life…” (John 6:30-35a NLT)

Here’s the thing. You might be praying for a miracle in your life right now. You might be looking for a sign. How do you know that it’s not right in front of you? How can you gauge your faith in your circumstance?  Try to answer this.  Fill in the blanks with the burden that’s on your heart now:

Even if he doesn’t ______________, I will _______________.

There could be a miracle in front of you right now, but a hardened heart stands in the way. A heart that only an unseen faith can soften.  Don’t wait until you see it to believe him.

When It Goes From Bad To Worse: Lesson #28

Acts 27

Just when you think it can’t get any worse…it does. Who hasn’t felt that way at some point? Luke describes their journey from Caesarea to Rome in Acts 27, and it’s filled with emotion as what should have been a relatively simple trek turned into a life and death battle at sea when they head directly into the perfect storm. I inserted myself into the story while reading the text, and imagined the kind of fear that would come upon me as I observed the crew no longer trying to steer the ship.

The sailors couldn’t turn the ship into the wind, so they gave up and let it run before the gale. (Acts 27:15)

How scary to see them tying ropes around the hull, just to keep it from coming apart, and watching helplessly as all the cargo gets thrown overboard. The mission of this ship becomes less and less important as the hours drag into days that then turns into weeks. I’m feeling it with them, hopeless. Are you feeling it too?

The terrible storm raged for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone. (Acts 27:20 emphasis added)

Now imagine that those two weeks of absolute terror and loss could have all been avoided if those in charge had just listened to you. How would you feel? Paul could see all the warning signs of the storm season and had warned the ship’s captain and owner not to sail.   He said he could see a shipwreck, loss of cargo, and danger to life. But the traveling window for the season was closing and the ship’s commanders didn’t want to be stuck in Fair Havens for the entire winter, so they gambled and ignored Paul, to everyone’s detriment. Paul responds.

Finally, Paul called the crew together and said, “Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Crete. You would have avoided all this damage and loss. But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. But we will be shipwrecked on an island.” (Acts 27:21b-26)

When things don’t go the way they should, like this example, where do you allow your attitude and outlook to drift? Do you let it “run the gale” or do you shift it into the best position? I see a theme developing in chapter 27 of trust and love. As I see it, when things don’t go the way they should, we have the option to hold a grudge and become disengaged or to trust and love.

OUR OPTIONS TO TRUST AND LOVE

Trust God’s PROMISE

Through the tumult of wherever we find ourselves, we have the option to trust God’s promises. Although Paul may have seized the opportunity for a little “I told you so” in his speech to the crew, I believe more that Paul was emphasizing his words could be trusted. His words were from a God that was beyond him. They had ignored him once already and he wanted the people to trust his words now. Paul said, “For I believe God. It will be just as he said.” (Acts 27:25)

We have a multitude of promises from scripture at our disposal. We can choose to trust those promises or try to take matters into our own hands. In this passage, we see that shortly after Paul shared God’s promise of survival, the sailors on the boat didn’t trust it. They were caught trying to abandon ship in the lifeboat as they neared land. But before judging these sailors, consider how often we do the exact same thing.

The kind of faith required for trusting God’s promises as Paul said he did, comes from God himself. God told Paul he would preach the Good News in Rome at least two years earlier when he was first arrested (Acts 23), and Paul understood that he would make it to Rome one way or another. But that didn’t keep the angel from reinforcing this word, “Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar!” We see evidence right here of God providing Paul with the faith necessary to continue trusting his promise. God is so faithful to do that for us.

Trust God’s PURPOSE

We have the option to trust God’s purpose regardless of the plan. At this point in Paul’s life he is all too accustomed to disruptions in the plan. He has learned to maintain a healthy flexibility required for the ebb and flow that is certain in God’s story. Scripture tells us that God weaves everything together to work toward his purpose, even if it doesn’t look like the plan we had in our mind. (I’ll talk about loving God’s plan in just a minute.)

A two-week storm, resulting in a completely smashed up ship and stranded on a relatively remote island, would certainly cause me to lose sight of the big picture. But here’s the thing – God’s big picture has as much to do with the journey itself than it does the destination. I am confident Paul understood this truth (even if he needed an angel to encourage him). This shipwreck was used to demonstrate God’s sovereign power to save lives as much, if not more, than would be demonstrated in Rome. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I would have become a believer before that ship sunk.

Love God’s PERSPECTIVE

We have the option to love in all things. We don’t always have eyes to see, but we can always ask for those eyes and to love God’s perspective. Throughout my years I have found myself most frustrated when I felt strong conviction about something, but couldn’t garner a following. I have been known to allow my frustration to grow to the point where my obsession with the truth would overcome my love for it. There is a difference.

Ears to hear and eyes to see – both are gifts from the Lord (Prov 20:12)

God had given Paul the gift to see the future danger and damage that would occur if they continued sailing from Fair Havens. Paul’s love for God’s perspective moved him to share the warning, but he didn’t obsess over it by nagging them repeatedly and allowing it to overshadow their relationship. He allowed space for God to show himself.

The others didn’t have eyes to see because their eyes were clouded with various fears and worries. Can you remember a time in your life when you didn’t have eyes to see and ears to hear? To be sure, there has been a time in ALL our lives when we’ve been there, and we still are on some level. When God chooses to bless us with the gift of sight and hearing, we can love it, share it with those around us, and continue to love it even when it goes unheeded.

Love God’s PEOPLE

We have the option to love the people around us. I am struck with Paul’s ability to love and encourage everyone aboard the ship. Because he didn’t fall victim to obsession over his correctness, he didn’t open himself to the anger that often follows. Anger tends to isolate while building emotional walls of protection, but Paul prioritized those relationships over his correctness and offered great love.

Just as day was dawning, Paul urged everyone to eat. “You have been so worried that you haven’t touched food for two weeks,” he said. “Please eat something now for your own good. For not a hair of your heads will perish.” Then he took some bread, gave thanks to God before them all, and broke off a piece and ate it. Then everyone was encouraged and began to eat – all 276 of us who were on board. (Acts 27:33-37)

When I read this passage, I can totally feel the collective deep breath they all took as they ate. They were encouraged.

Love God’s PLAN

We always have the option to love God’s plan. Very recently I found myself in a situation that I did not like at all, and since I had not been given eyes to see God’s perspective, I was pushing for a plan that was not in line with God’s plan at all. One afternoon, God opened my ears to hear him. He said, “Love where I have placed you and serve.” My situation didn’t change much after that, but my attitude did. I chose the option to love his plan even though I wouldn’t have chosen it.

We see Paul doing the exact same thing here. God’s plan at this point included Paul, not only being shipwrecked on an island, but to be in chains and imprisoned. Paul chose to love where God had placed him and serve. Just before the ship was completely shredded off the coast of Malta, the soldiers wanted to kill all the prisoners so they wouldn’t escape. Julius, the commanding officer, disallowed this plan because he wanted to keep Paul safe. Paul wasn’t going to escape; he loved God’s plan more although I’m confident he wouldn’t have chosen it.

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY

Let’s face it; the comfort of control and the feeling of “getting a handle on things” lures even the most seasoned of believers. So often have I said with my mouth, God is in control, but deep down I doubt as I mentally calculate my next move. Our control is an illusion. God really is in control.

Recognizing his sovereignty is all about our internal attitude adjustment. And please pardon the cliché, attitude affects everything. It’s not that we won’t make a next move, it’s that we are willing to wait for God to tell us the next move. A life like Paul’s, which was a life filled with power, purpose, and promise, requires the right attitude.

Things may not be going the way they should because someone didn’t listen to you. Things may not be going the way they should because you didn’t listen to someone else. If you find yourself in this place right now, ask God to give you eyes to see and ears to hear. Ask him to help you trust his promise and his purpose. Ask him to help you love his perspective, his people, and his plan. Because, you see, it’s going to all work out.   It will, whether or not we choose these options. Choosing these options is less about the choice itself and more about positioning yourself. If you steer into the wind (the Holy Spirit is described like wind in Acts 2), you are positioned to then enter His presence, to be IN HIM. And that’s really what this is all about.

So take courage. For I believe God. It will be just as he said. (Acts 27:25)

No One Ever Said It’s Easy: ACTS 19:21-41

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ACTS 19:21-41

I was traveling last week.  NOT the best time of the year, as we’ve all seen the East Coast get hammered with snow for the last six weeks. The day before I departed I closely watched the 5-day forecast for every departure, layover, and destination city I was to visit. Amazingly clear weather in Denver, Boston, Cape Cod, Chicago, Austin, Dallas, and Albuquerque. I was filled with confidence that my plans would go off without a hitch!

My first destination would be Boston with a jaunt to Cape Cod. I had my time planned to the minute so that I could visit with my people as much as possible during my stay and still make my flight up in Boston. Confident there would be no snow, I lingered a minute or two longer until I saw flakes dropping with force. Near blizzard conditions accompanied me all the way to the airport, which resulted in four flight delays, and the odds were not in my favor for making my connection in Chicago. Working with customer service I tried every other airline and alternate city out of Boston to no avail.  So, I adjusted my expectations to an unintended overnight stay in Chicago. “This will be good. I love downtown Chicago, I’ll beg my dear friend Alicia to meet me, and I’ll eat some pizza,” I told myself. Food always works, right? I slumped in my seat on the plane and silently declared, “Lord, why can’t my flights ever work?? Why must it always be difficult?” (Insert as much whining as you like.)  And He faithfully replied, “Why would you ever think things would be easy?” A knowing certainty of obstacles flooded my mind as I considered my future.

My God promises me many good things; in fact an abundance of good things, but an easy life, free of obstacles is not one of them. We will face opposition in one form or another.

WE WILL FACE OPPOSITION

“Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (II Tim 3:12)

“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad – for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. So be happy when you are insulted for being a Christian, for then the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you.” (I Peter 4:12-14)

If there’s one theme that stands out in Acts, it’s opposition.  We see Paul encounter opposition repeatedly from city to city, and chapter 19 is no different. Whether it’s cold rejection from his brothers or death threats, opposition is a constant. At this point in the book he had been working in Ephesus for more than two years with astounding results. His miracles brought a humbling awe across the city, and because Ephesus was positioned along all the major trade routes, the gospel spread effectively. Preaching the one, true God obviously had its effect.  As we see in the laws of physics, for every action there’s an opposite and equal reaction.

With a selfish motive to improve his sales, Demetrius sought to start an opposing movement. I’m sure he realized he’d find a slow response if his personal gain were the only motive, so he set out to strike the chord of patriotism. His argument claimed an attack on Artemis, the goddess of fertility and representative of these people, and it was therefore an attack on the people themselves. An emotional plea no doubt, because it stirs the entire community into a riot. Most of them didn’t even know why they were rioting, but they were drawn in regardless, looking for blood.

For me, when I think of this story, it symbolizes why I have feared my purpose.  Why I have feared a full life in Christ over the years. Why I found myself reluctant to even ask God how he wants to use me. I saw giants in the Promised Land and was more than willing to give up on his promises, however good they seemed, because I feared opposition. I can remember making a deliberate (although secret) decision during my college years to blend in, make no waves, and live as quiet a life as possible. I feared the cost of stepping across the Jordan River. (click here for the post on stepping into purpose) I believed the lie that there was no cost for staying this side of the river. Oh, but there is. It’s called opportunity cost. It’s the cost of never experiencing your potential in Christ, in addition to the cost of regret and the cost of staleness from “the same.” Did you know that our bodies are constantly regenerating and becoming new?  Every cell in our skin is replaced every 7 days and the cells in our skeleton are completely replaced every 7 years.  We are constantly becoming new physically and spiritually if we allow it.  Our God is the God of new.

The other night my son started asking me for the escape plan if our house were to catch on fire. I always hesitate to entertain these conversations, but we talked about it. The more we talked about our plans, the meeting place, the exits, and the alternate exits, it didn’t assuage his fears, they only grew.  As I tried to calm him with words that our house wasn’t going to catch on fire, he said, “but, Mom, God could allow our house to catch on fire.” You know what? He’s right. I could not promise that God wouldn’t allow it, because I know very well he could.  I had a friend report a house fire of her friend just last week, asking for prayers and support.  Life is filled with obstacles. I don’t know anyone, whether or not a follower of Christ, who hasn’t encountered tough times at some point. So I asked him, “If our house catches on fire, will you trust God anyway? Will you trust that God loves you deeply, without end?”

Whether it’s your house burning down, being ridiculed by your community, losing a family member, or whatever presses on your thoughts at night, will you trust God anyway? Will you trust that God loves you deeply, without end?  Will you trust that there’s more of HIM in every part of suffering?

PAUL FACES HIS OPPOSITION

In his second letter to Corinth, Paul details his sufferings because his credibility comes under attack.

“I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold without enough clothing to keep me warm.” (II Cor 11:23-27)

I wonder if Paul ever said in my kind of whiney voice, “Lord, why can’t I ever get on a boat that doesn’t get smashed to pieces? Am I destined to never make my connecting ship ride?” Possibly. But before you think this is not applicable to you, that his sufferings were so fantastical to ever be on the scale of your life, I want you to see the phrase at the beginning, “worked harder.” When I saw this it made me think.  This man trudged within the mundane too. Do you remember how he made tents with Priscilla and Aquila there in Corinth to earn his living? He most definitely encountered the repetitive, mundane type of suffering in addition to the highlight reel we tend to remember.

So how does Paul do it? His words,

“We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.” (II Cor 6:7-10)

He realizes that our enemy, Satan, wanted nothing more than to keep Paul on this side of the river. We are fighting a spiritual battle, often clothed in the skin of people, but must be fought with spiritual weaponry. He uses righteousness and he keeps putting one foot in front of the other. He does not stop.

IT DOTH STINKETH!

I have been called to write. So I have started writing. I was on my way to a writer’s conference last week when I faced the possibility of missing a connecting flight in Chicago. I have to admit, I seriously considered booking a flight home instead. “Should I even risk it? I’ll just go home,” I thought.  As much as I wanted to halt my frustration and uncertainty, the words wouldn’t come out of my mouth. So when I heard God pose the question, “Why would you ever think things would be easy,” I considered that my enemy might not want me at this conference. That it might be easier for him to discourage me from my purpose if I stayed home. Right then I determined, missed flight or not, stranded in Chicago or not, I would trust God anyway. I would trust that he loves me deeply to provide me with the best. In case your wringing your hands over the outcome, I made it, and was greatly encouraged to continue writing.

But I have also been called to be a mom. I struggle here, because I find many aspects of parenting and housekeeping to be mundane and not nearly as exciting as blizzards, cancelled flights, and my new venture in writing. I am guilty of allowing boredom to overwhelm my thoughts when I’m constantly making the meals, begging that the meals be eaten, and cleaning the meals, only to repeat in three hours. This is a type of suffering that I had never considered until recently. There will be times when our purpose brings about feelings of exhilaration, even during persecution where you feel like your slaying Satan, and there will be times when it goes unnoticed and you feel underwhelmed. But listen to what God says about that.

In the first few chapters of Leviticus, God is providing the instructions for the burnt offerings. I want you to try and imagine the smell of burning blood and flesh, the burnt to a crisp kind of burnt, from the animal offerings. Then try to imagine the smell of burnt toast from the grain offerings. It stinks. God says, “It is a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” And by the way, he says this over and over and over. So sometimes my offering of cooking, and cleaning, and wiping bottoms quite literally stinks, but it is a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

ARE YOU EXCITED YET?

PLEASE DON’T STOP READING HERE!  Before you think me Debbie Downer, I have heard so many times (insert defeated nasal whine), “(Sigh….)The Christian life is hard.  I guess it’s always gonna be this way.  I’ll just pray I die soon so I can reach my glory in heaven.” Seriously!  Why in the world would anyone ever sign up for this? So I go back to Paul. It’s his life we’re evaluating here, it’s his words that describe his suffering, and it’s with his words that we understand why.

“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed everyday. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (II Cor 4:16-18)

Our stories are but a part of this giant masterpiece that God is unfolding. When he calls us into it, he equips us for it, and the rewards are breathtaking. When we are intimately connected with Jesus through the empowerment of his Spirit, we get a taste of those rewards now. We don’t have to wait until we die!  That’s what Paul is saying above.  When we KNOW Him and are WITH Him, we are connected to heaven and can get a taste.  It is breathtaking!  I will keep putting one foot in front of the other. Will you?  My suffering, however it may look from day to day, will be a sacrifice, a pleasing aroma to my Lord.